Calcio in Heels – Conspiracies, Record-breakers and a Tactical Genius
The last time Calcio in Heels was on display for Goalden Times, it was soon after Inter’s Derby della Madonnina defeat over Milan. This time, Rossella Marrai continues to profile the Nerazzurri’s latest undefeated run with a stellar victory over Juventus and the man behind the empathic win. On top of it, the latest dilemma of referees and its continuous debate of whether it was ‘human error’ or a ‘bought referee’, also comes into play in November’s issue
Calcio is not just purely about football anymore. In Italy, it has become a fusion of both football and amalgamated conspiracy theories over years past to form a paradigm that certain fixtures have been bought over to procure a result.
No longer can two sets of players walk onto the field and see a goal given for straight ‘human error’. No, it’s a constantly growing force that has overshadowed the ‘Beautiful Game’.
Ever since the 2006 Calciopoli scandal erupted across the Italian peninsula, few fans, and even neutrals, can’t watch a game without the thought of ‘that must be fixed’ or ‘that team has bought the referee’ having crossed their mind.
It is a sad reality which needs to be stopped. Bad calls, offside goals, non-existent penalties don’t just happen in Italy but the conspiracies hit full throttle during Week Nine of Serie A.
The Stadio Angelo Massimino was the venue at question, Catania the victim and Juventus the one controlling the linesman’s flag – or so it was said by the cynics.
In that game, Gonzalo Bergessio had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside in the first half, whilst Arturo Vidal’s 57th minute goal was allowed to stand – by the same linesman as the incident before – when he was handed the ball with Nicklas Bendtner in an illegal position.
The incident arguably caused up a stir in an already heated affair with Catania eventually being reduced to ten men following Giovanni Marchese’s second booking.
“We need to delete what happened. We have accumulated a lot of anger. I tried to close the doors on it on Monday morning already when training returned. I am sorry our merits on the field have not been shown in a proper light but now it is a chapter closed,” Catania coach Ronaldo Maran told reporters a few days after the encounter.
If there was ever a large gathering of anti-Juve followers, the group suddenly grew bigger. The incidents didn’t do the Bianconeri any favours in clearing the label of ‘Rubentus’ (‘Rubare’ means to steal in Italian) dubbed on them after they were relegated to Serie B in 2006 for match-fixing.
Cries of ‘Ladri, Ladri, Ladri’ (thieves, thieves, thieves) were echoed across the Massimino on that sunny Sunday afternoon, and it only further laid reason to claim truth behind the conspiracy theories – that Juve had ‘bought’ the game.
History may not favour the Bianconeri in convincing the cynics that the decisions made by Luca Maggiani were in fact ‘human error’ but when a team is on a 47-match unbeaten run, why would a club need to pay off an official when their quality is miles ahead of their rivals?
It seems nonsensical that it is the same Juventus team which saw penalties wavered away as frequently as Lionel Messi’s scoring ratio last season.
It was almost as if last season the referees were scared to hand any favours to Juventus in order to see their names dragged through media dust. Is this a sign of a team who has bought officials? No.
The Bianconeri strengthened their squad for the 2011-2012 campaign and managed to complete the season undefeated, whilst this transfer market, Director General and Sports Department CEO of Juventus, Beppe Marotta has only but further increased the quality and depth in the squad. It seems illogical that a team, which holds significantly better talent from their scudetto winning season, would pay the match officials especially when the gap of quality to the likes of Milan had substantially widened. Only Inter could really truly rival them, whilst Napoli and Roma lack the depth and consistency.
The same weekend of the match against Gli Elefanti were Manchester United and Chelsea and those games too were overshadowed by controversy in poor refereeing and officiating decisions. It only goes to show that not only does it happen in Italy but it happens in England too and that ‘human error’ is so often crossed over the to the fine line of judgmental and rash opinions.
Games are won on the field and not via Electronic Funds Transfer.
Saturday, 3 November, was a prime example of this when Inter beat the Vinovo outfit despite Arturo Vidal scoring a goal 21 seconds into the game from an offside Kwadwo Asamoah pass. It was here where determination by Inter bettered the conspiracy skeptics and went on to break their undefeated record.
Juventus are beatable
The Juventini would tell you they won their ‘30th’ scudetto on the field last season, whilst – as per the norm – the Milanisti would beg to differ. They would say the title was handed to Juve after an ‘unacceptable’ (as labelled by Milan themselves) offside decision wrongly went in favour of the Bianconeri when Sulley Muntari’s goal was cancelled out.
And while I don’t condone the fact that the decision to rule out the most evident goal by the Ghanaian was atrocious, it was not the reason for Juve’s title win. It was Milan’s inability to compete for the whole length of the season coupled with the injury crisis to have hit the squad which saw them give away the lead, whilst the Old Lady had done away with her walking stick and was running a full marathon.
Fans of the ‘anti-Juve’ academy were up in arms that scudetto number 30 or 28 – call it what you will – was only aided by several key refereeing moments, seeing them dubbed as ‘unbeatable’ due to the ‘favouritism’ handed to them. However, Inter and Andrea Stramaccioni put things straight.
Confident of his side’s ability from the off, Stramaccioni knew full well what his side was capable of: “They’re a bit more established, a bit more settled in terms of the way they play. It will be our biggest test yet to assess our progress.
“I wouldn’t settle for a draw, though: we’re Inter and I’ve never gone out looking for anything less than victory. We’re not afraid,” the young coach told La Gazzetta dello Sport before the game.
Afraid they were not as they showed that the ‘unbeatables’ can, in fact, be beaten as Inter pulled off one of their most striking displays on the field this season.
Even after conceding a goal so early on at the Juventus Stadium, Stramaccioni’s tenacity, instilled in his team to never give up, raised the bar of their performance and it was undoubtedly something few teams had in them in order to fight back.
Milan failed to overcome their anger after Muntari’s goal was disallowed and found more reasons to protest and argue than to fight back, while Catania’s Sicilian nature saw their hopes go void when they were reduced to ten men.
Inter, on the other hand, didn’t succumb to such emotions.
“At half-time I was certain we’d get the game back on track and even win it, because I saw the way it was going. The whole team had belief and was fired up during the break. Inter are growing and that is the important thing,” Stramaccioni said after the game at the Juventus Stadium.
However, their determination and hunger to win wasn’t the only reason for Inter’s win; it was Stramaccioni’s astute tactical changes too.
Stramaccioni – Tactical Genius
“Special Strama – From the victory in Torino to scudetto dreams.
“The Inter coach has changed the squad and won everyone over in 40 days. The president and fans see Mourinho in him. And in the Serie A he has a 70% winning percentage: better than the legends…” read a headline from La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Labelled as a ‘tactical genius’ for his charismatic and clever way of reviving Inter, in the latter stages of last season, in which he helped move Inter up to sixth position and allowing them to qualify for the Europa League, Stramaccioni only further emphasized the reason behind the name.
At 36 years of age, ‘Strama’ is the youngest coach in Serie A and whilst his lack of experience may not reach the levels of some of today’s coaches in the league, the tactician hosts a world of enthusiasm to get him by.
Traditionally seen sporting his favoured formations of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, where the combination of a compact defensive unit aided in having perfect balance of an attacking line-up. The formations proved to provide a reportedly unhappy Wesley Sneijder with a rejuvenated form and he too praised the young tactician’s efforts.
“Fortunately now there is a coach who understands me, gives me a lot of energy and he has put things in order,” the Dutchman said after Stramaccioni’s appointment.
Although Sneijder’s new form – which saw him form part of an attacking trident of Antonio Cassano and Diego Milito – was often considered to be the puppet master in the way Inter’s results panned out, Stramaccioni was forced to adapt in his formation due to the playmaker’s absence from the Juve game.
Against the Bianconeri one could say the ‘element of surprise’ was used when Inter turned out in a 3-4-3 formation to counteract Juventus’ 3-5-1 structure.
“I knew full well I’d play 3-4-3. I thought Juventus would have an advantage by knowing our tactics beforehand, so why should I make it easier for them? Our strength is that we are versatile and have a basic approach that can then be adjusted for each individual situation.
“When I told the strikers I wanted to play this way, it perhaps surprised them too, but became an enormously motivating force and everyone stepped up,” said Stramaccioni, while revealing the thoughts behind his masterminding of such a result.
Inter’s attacking trio allowed was a force to be reckoned with as their constant overlapping runs and fluidity on movement allowed for Juventus’ backline to have little reference points to work off.
Another advantage to the new line-up saw the wide players in the Black and Blue shirts add extra pressure onto Juve’s wing-backs which required him to drop back whilst creating more space for Inter to utilize the open space. This was only emphasized when Fredy Guarin and Yuto Nagatomo contributed to the scoreline with their runs down the flanks.
The implementation of Guarin for Cassano provided Inter with more pace and versatility to their play. Guarin was at the heart of the Nerazzurro turnaround in the second half display as he continued to show the promise which saw him shipped to Italy for Portugal despite being injured.
A game is made of two halves and there was only one team who owned the second period of the match due to their initiative in not letting a wrong decision get the better of them. And in the words of Stramaccioni: “Juve keep talking about what happened on the pitch, on the pitch, on the pitch – well, Inter beat them on the pitch.”
Those three points added to the match accumulator of nine consecutive wins and the ‘unstitching’ of Juve’s pattern deservedly saw the revelatory coach named as a ‘Tactical Genius’.